RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 16, Episode 5 was a Girl Groups challenge paired with a wide-open runway prompt: Faster Pussycat Wig Wig! The combination let the queens really show of their range and their imagination. It resulted in strong showings from the entire cast and the tightest judging so far this season.
Drag Race can sometimes be stingy with music options when it comes to its mid-season “Girl Groups” songwriting challenges. Even with strong songwriters like Leland on the production team, often we get a somewhat limp instrumental track without much implied melody for queens to work with.
(There have been some obvious exceptions on the international franchises, like MNEK’s outstanding “Break Up (Bye Bye)” for UK Season 1).
On this episode, the queens got to work with three genuine RuPaul tracks – and, all three of them are absolute bops with House music flavor. Ru has always produced highly-entertaining, booty-shaking dance music. Last year’s record, Black Butta, felt as though it leaned out of making club-ready drag music and slightly more into the current pop mainstream. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the mainstream has been loving House music influences for the past few years, in no small part thanks to Beyoncé.
For my dollar, “Stay Baby” is the best production of these three tracks, but “Courage to Love” is some of Ru’s better inspiro-pop, and as goofy as “ASMR Lover” is as a title it’s a catch tune.
Was it the high quality of these songs that led to such an outstanding trio of girl groups this episode? Or, do we really have a cast of 12 highly-capable queens who know how to both write and sing? I feel like I was considerably harder on the lyrics produced by the All-Winners for their Girl Groups than I am on the lyrics from this cast.
I was asking the same question for this runway prompt. “Faster Pussycat Wig Wig” is basically just a wig-styling assignment. To this cast’s credit, only one of them took it as a signal to do a full-on cat-themed look – and even she used that to play with proportions in an interesting way. Everyone else got imaginative, and while I didn’t love every outfit there were barely any BOOTs in the mix.
(Although, I think it’s telling that both of the frontrunners pulled the same “the wig is a cat” gag as each other, both layering it on top of another reveal. To me, that was a real “they cracked the code” sort of moment. Both queens seem to have an intrinsic understanding of the beats they need to hit to please Ru, while the other queens chasing them are having trouble finding that rhythm.)
Speaking of trouble with rhythm, this may have been the most-entertaining choreography rehearsal we’ve ever seen on the American franchise. Each group had its unique challenges to surmount, which lead not only to funny moments on stage, but absolutely righteous moments between the eight queens watching the rehearsal.
In the end, the Girl Group performances were so tight that you could easily make the case for any queen to be on the top of this episode. Instead of going for an obvious “one top and one bottom from each team” critique, the show instead bucked tradition for the US franchise and handed out a group win. As a result, that yielded a painfully obvious pair of bottoms – one due to the girl groups, the other due to the runway.
That means we’ve got a handful of big shake-ups in the power rankings compared to last week’s power rankings for RDR Live. In a week where every queen does well, it forces me to really pick apart their momentum. What are their narratives in the edit? What is the story for them Ru seems to be telling with her critiques? And, do they have any hope of lasting until the finale when two (or maybe three) of the top spots already feel like they’re all locked up?
Readers, start your engines. And, may the best drag queen win!